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Chapter 5 - The Lumber Workers' Struggle for Freedom and the Lumber Trusts' Struggle for Profits

March the 5th and 6th, 1917 a lumber workers convention was held in Spokane, for the purpose of forming an industrial union in the lumber industry. This convention was composed of thirteen delegates representing all the AWO branches in Eastern Washington, Idaho, and Western Montana, thenceforth known as the Spokane district; two delegates representing the organizer! lumber workers of Minnesota, Wisconsin and Michigan, the Middle West district; and two representing Nos. 432 of Seattle, and 338 of Tacoma. Lumber Workers Industrial Union No. 500 was launched, with a membership of about ten thousand who had lined up in the AWO The new Union was soon afterwards joined by the lumber workers' locals of Western Washington and Oregon, which became the Seattle district.

At this convention, pursuant to the instructions from the membership, arrangements were made for calling a strike in the Spokane district the following summer, the exact date to be determined by the organization committee, contingent on circumstances. Demands were drawn up, calling for an eight hour day; a minimum wage of $60 a month and board; springs, mattresses, and bedding to be furnished by the companies; shower baths and drying rooms, and an all around improvement of conditions in the camps; abolition of the hospital fee; and that all men be hired from the Union Hall. A special demand of $5.00 for a day of eight hours, was made for the river drivers, and it was agreed that 1 strike should be called on each river as soon as the drive started.

In some parts of the Northwest the logs are floated long distances down liver from the woods to the sawmills. These drives start in the spring as soon as the melting snow from the mountains makes sufficient water in the livers. About the middle of April the drives started, and one by one they were tied up by strikes. Some of these strikes were successful, all demands being won. Others were long drawn out and bitterly contested, the companies trying to get the work done by scabs, and the strikers maintaining pickets on the rivers as long as the drives lasted. The usual strike breaking tactics were employed by the companies. Gunmen patrolled the rivers. Stool pigeons attempted their work of disruption from within the ranks. Strikers were arrested and jailed. Lying stories of riot and anarchy by the strikers were spread by the press. In some places troops were brought in for the purpose of intimidation. But in spite of all opposition the strikers remained firm; and in nearly all cases in which the demands were not granted the greater part of the logs remained up river when the water went down.

June 1st the organization committee of the Lumber Workers Industrial Union held a meeting at which it was decided to carry out instructions of the March convention, by calling a strike of all the lumber workers of the Spokane district for July 1st. By that time about eight-five per cent of the lumberjacks in that district were organized, also a small percentage of the sawmill workers. Sentiment for a strike was good. Many small walkouts had occurred, most of them over the food.

June the 15th a strike started over the food, in one of the camps of the Humbird Lumber Co. near Sand Point, Idaho. The other Humbird camps followed, and in a few days all the camps in the neighborhood of Sand Point were out, and the strike was rapidly spreading to other lumber centers. In view of this situation, the officials of LWIU decided not to wait till July 1st, but to call the strike at once. June the 20th the strike call was sent out. In response to this call, the power of the organized lumber workers was demonstrated beyond all question. The men left the woods in thousands and in a short time practically all the camps in Eastern Washington, Idaho and Montana were shut down and the lumber industry of the short log country was paralyzed.

Any camps that were slow to come out were visited by committees of the strikers, and in nearly all cases, when the workers realized the extent of the strike and the great possibilities involved, they were easily persuaded to quit work. Strike camps were formed and the entire strike zone was covered by a network of picket lines. In each camp committees were chosen to carry out the work of picketing and attend to the various duties of conducting the strike. A representative of each branch was sent to Spokane to act on the central strike committee.

A few camps made an attempt to operate with scabs, but they were shorthanded, and the scabs were inefficient. The result, measured in production of logs, was negligible.

Several small outfits offered to accede to all the strikers' demands if they would return to work. The pros and cons of this proposition were thoroughly thrashed out at the strikers' meetings, and the question was finally put to a referendum. It was voted down by a large majority. The prevailing opinion was that this was a scheme to cause a division among the strikers, by some of the companies temporarily giving in to the demands and getting the men back to work, and in this way getting enough logs to keep some of the mills running, and fill the most pressing orders for all the companies affected by the strike. This would enable the companies, against which the strike was still in force, to hold out indefinitely.

Then when the strike was broken, and the lumber workers were forced back on the job defeated, the companies that had succeeded to the demands would take back all they had granted, and force the former conditions back on the men. It was pointed out that this scheme had been worked successfully by the employers on the striking longshoremen of the Pacific Coast in 1916. The strikers recognized that they were not fighting a lot of separate, individual companies, but an organized trust. It was agreed that no sepal ate settlements would be made with any of the companies, and when the strikers returned, they would all go back as they had struck, together.

Appeals for funds and subscription lists were sent out from the head office in Spokane, to all other IWW unions and branches in the United States, and to many other unions, radical societies, and individuals. Every day the mails brought in contributions, and every day funds were sent out to the strike camps. No great amount of money ever accumulated at the head office for as fast as it came in it was sent out. Most of the contributions were for small amounts, but there were many of them.

This was a good example of the way IWW strikes are e financed. It has often been argued against the IWW, that it has no large treasury, and therefore is incapable of carrying on strikes successfully. In reply, we point to the lumber workers' strike and the copper miners' strike of 1917, the strike of the iron miners on the Mesaba Range in 1916, the Lawrence strike of 1912, the Patterson silk workers' strike, and there are many other similar cases. The strength of the IWW does not lie in the size of its treasury, but in the soundness of its principles, and the solidarity of its membership.

It is impossible for a capitalist court to tie up the funds of the IWW by an injunction, or to confiscate them by a fine, as was done in the cases of the Danbury Hatters, and the United Mine Workers, for the IWW strike funds are beyond the reach of courts and injunctions, being in the pockets of the workers all over the continent.

Special strike stamps were issued by the LWIU, and these were actively pushed by the delegates of the other industrial unions, especially among the agricultural workers in the harvest fields. Much money was raised by the strikers themselves. As soon as they deft the job, collections were taken up. In some of the strike camps enough money was raised to keep them supplied without calling on the head office.

After the strike was called the health authorities of Idaho had a surprising awakening. They actually discovered that the sanitary conditions in the camps were not all that could be desired. Inspectors were sent to the camps. These expressed horror at the conditions they found and ordered the camps cleaned up immediately. Although these same unsanitary conditions had existed for years, they had never before disturbed the peaceful slumbers of the State Board of Health; which goes to prove that no action is ever taken on behalf of the workers until they take action themselves-and then only to placate them front taking further action.

The summer of 1917 was an exceptionally dry one and, as always happens during a dry summer, there were many forest fires. Many of the strikers went fighting fire, and rendered invaluable services, often at the risk of their lives. The sworn testimony of government officials will show, that had it not been for the willing and efficient services rendered by the strikers, a great part of the forests of the Northwest would have been totally ruined. Men not familiar with the work in the woods, are not only practically useless as fire fighters, but work at great danger to

themselves. To fight fire effectively requires lumberjacks--men who understand the work. Had the striking lumberjacks refused to fight fire, millions of dollars worth of the best timber in the Northwest would have gone up in smoke.

At Missoula, Montana, the fire fighters were e hired from the IWW hall, nearly all the fire fighting gangs had IWW men as foremen, and the U. S. fire Walden repeatedly stated that the IWWs were the most efficient and reliable men he had.

When the strike became general some of the sawmill crews walked out and special demands for sawmill workers were drawn up. This was the case at Bonner, Montana, and Elk River, Idaho. At the latter place, the business men of the town demonstrated their servility by scabbing in the mill. After the strike had gone on for some time most of the sawmills had to shut down for walls of logs.

In the meantime all the poisonous venom of the capitalist press was turned loose on the strikers. A campaign of lies, slander, and abuse, was daily carried on. Stories of the most absurd nature were circulated, in an attempt to turn public opinion against the strikers. Accusations were made that the strike was instigated and financed by German agents, to obstruct the U. S. government in the conduct of the war, and to hinder the manufacture of aeroplanes by stopping tire production of spruce, and that $100,000 a month was received at strike headquarters, from the Kaiser.[1]

Frantic appeals to patriotism were made, and the strikers were branded as undesirable citizens, public enemies and traitors.

Besides carrying on this insidious propaganda to influence public opinion, the companies endeavored to create a reign of terror by instituting a "government of gunmen"; these low and degenerate characters infested all the camps, and did everything in their power to harass and annoy the strikers, while spies and secret agents attempted to cause dissension and disruption within the ranks. But the strikers remained firm. Determined and resolute men carried on the work of picketing, and a close watch was kept on all employment offices in the Northwest. In the strike camps, order and discipline prevailed, in spite of all attempts of company stools to stir up trouble.

Owing to the wide area covered by the strike, the large number of men involved, and the vigilance of the pickets, it was impossible for the lumber companies to recruit a sufficient number of' scabs to run the camps, despite their most strenuous efforts. Finding all attempts to break the ranks of the strikers unsuccessful, the companies resorted to the usual tactics of Big Business in such cases. The press, acting as the mouthpiece of the Lumber Trust, began to make insistent demands for martial law in the strike zone.

Governor Alexander of Idaho was not in favor of calling for troops, for he claimed that the strike could be broken by means of the existing machinery of civil government. To accomplish this purpose he made a personal tour of all the strike camps in Idaho. Accompanied by the sheriff of the county, he would visit a camp, and make a talk to the strikers, appealing to their patriotism, and trying to impress upon them that it was their duty to work for the industrial Kaisers of the Lumber Trust, at starvation wages, and under inhuman conditions, in order to expedite the war against the political autocracy of the German Kaiser. In other words they should submit to autocracy in Idaho, in order to crush autocracy in Germany, and show their patriotism by going back to work under the old unspeakable conditions, in order to give their industrial masters a chance to show theirs by profiteering at the expense of the government, on a scale before undreamed of, even in their philosophy of the survival of the slickest.

The logic of this reasoning did not impress the strikers very deeply; but brute force and not logic is what the lumber trust has always relied on to keep its employee in subjection. As soon as the governor had taken his departure, the sheriff anti his deputies would raid the camp and arrest the most active of the strikers. In St. Maries and Sand Point, Idaho, the union halls were closed and many arrests were made. At Bonner's Ferry, Idaho, the hall was closed and the strikers run out of town by an armed mob of citizens led by the sheriff. At Whitefish, Montana, the hall was closed by soldiers, and a bonfire made of the furniture and supplies. In many other places strikers were arrested and jailed on flimsy charges or on no charges at all. As fast as the men were arrested, others took their places on the picket line. At St. Maries and Moscow, Idaho, "bull pens" were built, and in each of these about forty of the strikers were held on charges of "Criminal Syndicalism." All over the strike district, hundreds were lying in the filthy jails, and every day more arrests were made.

At Elk River, Idaho, a number of strikers were working as section men on the railroad, when they were arrested, tried in a company controlled court and sentenced to jail for "vagrancy." At Bovil, Idaho, some of the strikers who had rented a house were forcibly evicted by Lumber Trust gunmen, in spite of the protest of the proprietor.

Near the end of July, there occurred at Troy, Montana, an incident of shocking barbarity. A man named Frank Thornton was arrested in a saloon, after a quarrel with the bartender, and the constable took him to the jail, a small wooden structure. Bystanders who witnessed the arrest stated that two Lumber Trust gunmen followed them, and the sound of blows was heard coming from the jail, as if they were giving Thornton a terrible beating. That night the jail was burned and Thornton, the only prisoner, was burned in it.

It was thought by some that Thornton was beaten to death by the constable and gunmen on the afternoon of his arrest, and that the jail was purposely set on fire to cover up the crime. Others claimed that while the jail was burning, they could see Thornton, writhing in agony among the flames. This much is certain: the jail was burned, and either Thornton or his dead body burned with it.

Thornton was beaten to death or burned alive in the jail, and the authorities who arrested him and put him in that jail, are responsible for his death. To imprison a man in a firetrap of that kind, and leave him without any possible chance of escape in case of fire, is in itself a criminal act, and is absolutely inexcusable.

There are thousands of these wooden firetrap jails in this country, and many men have met a fate similar to that of Thornton, but because they are working men without money or influence, little publicity has ever been given these atrocities.

To enumerate all the instances of violence and lawlessness practiced on the strikers by Lumber Trust gunmen and subservient officers of the law would fill a large volume. All this hounding, persecuting, arresting, beating and jailing could not break the strike, or crush the undaunted spirit of the strikers. Every fresh outrage only seemed to increase their determination; as fast as pickets were arrested, others took their places, and as the week dragged along the fight was carried on with intensified bitterness. The lumber industry remained paralyzed. As the Lumber Trust governor of Idaho said "the camps were as quiet as the graveyard and the main thing was to get them started up again."

In Washington the state of affairs was as bad as that in Idaho and Montana. Troops were brought into the Yakima Valley, and a systematic attempt was made to drive all members of the IWW out of that part of the country. At North Yakima, Wenatchee, Pasco, Leavenworth, Cle Elum, and Ellensburg, hundreds of men were arrested and held in jails and "bull pens" for being members or suspected of membership in the IWW No one who looked dike a working man was safe from arrest. Men were arrested on the streets of these towns, while peaceably attending to their own affairs. If, on being searched, they were found in possession of IWW cards, they were thrown into jail or "bull pen" and there held without trial or "due process of the law," in some cases for months. Passenger trains passing through these towns, were boarded and searched by soldiers, and any passengers suspected of being members of the IWW were taken off and put in jail.

The treatment received by these men in the jails and "bull pens" would disgrace any country in the world having the slightest pretension to civilization. They barely received sufficient food to keep them alive, and what little they did get was totally unfit for human use. For protesting against this treatment met they were bulldozed, insulted, and in some cases brutally beaten by the soldiers. Many of these men on being released, presented the appearance of living skeletons, and were scarcely recognized by their friends, to such a condition had they been reduced by starvation and abuse.

Attempts were made to have these men released by habeas corpus proceedings, but without success. At Pasco the judge turned down the writ on the grounds that the state of Washington was in a "state of insurrection". At North Yakima the two men named in the writ were turned loose just before the case was to come into court, thus preventing the making of a test case.

There is reason to believe that this reign of terror in the Yakima Valley was caused partly with the object of preventing any of the striking lumberjacks from obtaining work harvesting in that part of the country.

While this industrial war was raging in the short log country, the lumber workers Of Western Washington were watching developments, and making active preparations to join the strike. In this section about twenty per cent of the loggers were organized in the LWIU, and the majority of the unorganized were favorably inclined towards the union. Among the sawmill workers, owing to unfavorable conditions, organization had made comparatively little headway. Many were strongly in favor of the LWIU but, for reasons previously mentioned, were deterred from joining. A few belonged to an A. F of L. organization known as the International Union of Timberworkers which was closely allied to the shingle weavers union and which, owing to its reactionary character, did not meet with such strong opposition from the lumber companies.

Sentiment for a strike was good. Many of the lumber workers realized this was an opportunity for bettering their conditions which they could not afford to let pass. The demand for lumber was good, especially for long timber for shipbuilding and, owing to the strike in the short log country, the lumber workers of Western Washington were practically in control of the situation. It is customary in this section for the mills and camps to shut down July 1st, and remained closed from one to two weeks, to overhaul machinery and make repairs. Consequently nothing could be gained by striking before operations were resumed after the holidays,

Early in July a convention of delegates representing the organized lumber workers in all parts of Western Washington was held in Seattle. A strike was voted, this being the instructions given the delegates by the membership July 16th the strike call was sent out. The result was practically the same as in the Spokane district. Great activity was displayed by the organized minority, and in a short time ninety percent of the lumber industry of Western Washington was at a stand still. Owing to the different nature of the work in the long log country different demands were drawn up, but the eight hour day was the paramount issue.

Never before had the lumber barons been confronted with such a situation, and to judge by the frantic wails of the press, they were at a loss what to do. They claimed it was impossible to grant the eight hour day owing to competition of the South, where ten hours was the work day in the lumber industry, and wages were much lower than in the Northwest. The usual charges of disloyalty and pro-Germanism were made by the newspapers, and it was charged that the object of the strike was to stop production of spruce lumber which was needed for tire manufacture of aeroplanes for the war; and to cut off the supply of lumber from the wooden shipyards, which were working on government orders. As a matter of fact the production of spruce was very little interfered with by the strike, as most of the spruce timber grows in Oregon and was unaffected by the strike.

As an example of the patriotism of the Lumber Trust, it is interesting to note in passing, that according to the figures printed in the 'Spokane Press, before the United States entered the war, the price of spruce was $16 a thousand feet, while a few months later, owing to the demand for spruce for aeroplanes, the price rose to $116 a thousand feet. Subsequent investigations by Congress throw additional light on the profiteering of the Lumber Trust. The following is from the Seattle Union Record of July 5, 1919:

WASHINGTON, July 14.--Charges of waste and profiteering in the production of spruce from Pacific forests, for army biplanes, were ready for presentation to the House committee investigating War Department expenditures, by the Providence (RI) Journal today.

Affidavits were prepared purporting to show that under the departments cost-plus plan, the government paid $650 a thousand feet for spruce which private concerns could buy for $130 to $178 a thousand.

Other charges prepared by the Journal were: Hundreds of miles of two inch plank road were built into isolated forests, anti never used.

Food supplies were carelessly thrown into a mudhole, anti stoves were left in the open and ruined.

Lumber interests influenced army officers by "wild parties".

Out of 21,000 feet of spruce delivered to a Massachusetts factory, inspectors only passed 400 feet.

Several camps were started with large numbers of men and then suddenly abandoned.

If any one was guilty of disloyalty so far as the shipyards were concerned, it was the lumber companies by reason of their refusal to sacrifice a small part of their profits, and end the deadlock, by granting the demands of the strikers, the most important of which was the eight-hour day, which had long ago been adopted for all government employee. By a sophistry of avarice the Lumber Trust sought to prove that an eight-hour day, while legal for government employee, was treason when demanded by lumber workers. Secretary of War Baker specially requested the lumber barons to grant the eight-hour day, and was refused. This refusal places the blame of disloyalty squarely on the shoulders of the lumber barons themselves.

The strike on the coast was conducted in much the same manner as in the short log country. The same order and discipline prevailed among the strikers. They showed the same energy, enthusiasm, and determination to win. The same methods of violence and lawlessness were employed by the companies, and the same use was made of subservient public officials and corrupt courts.

The usual attempts were made to hoodwink and double cross the strikers. The press constantly spread reports that the strike was broken, and that the strikers were returning to work. Ambitious politicians in the guise of mediators, and members of state councils of defense ostensibly acting from patriotic motives, displayed great. diligence in acting as mouthpieces of the Lumber Trust. Stripped of their high sounding protestations of friendship for the strikers, the object of these would-be mediators was to end the strike, and get the strikers back on the job as soon as possible, and at the easiest possible terms for the Lumber Trust.

Some of these political fakirs made the proposal that the strikers should return to work to finish all government contracts, and then, the following January, when the rush of work was over, a conference was to be held at which the lumber barons would condescend to consider granting the eight hours day. Then the press reported that the strikers had accepted this "offer" and were returning to work. This the strikers treated as a joke.

In Oregon the percentage of organized lumber workers was small. When the strike started, slight hopes were entertained of making it effective in that state. After the strike had tied up Western Washington the lumber companies transferred some of their orders to the Columbia River district in Oregon. This caused a strike of nearly all the loggers in that section. Most of the sawmills in Portland and Astoria were shut down, either by direct strikes or by shortage of logs, caused by the tie-up in the woods. However, the percentage of organized workers was too small, and the strike only lasted from one to two weeks.

The profiteering magnates of the Oregon lumber centers, fearing the spread of the strike, resorted to the "unlawful methods of terrorism" commonly used by the Lumber Trust, to prevent the union from gaining a foothold.

At La Grande, Oregon the LWIU Hall was closed by the city authorities, and the secretary arrested, held several days, and then ordered out of town. Organizers were arrested, forcibly put on trains, and threatened with lynching if they returned.

At Bend, Oregon a mob raided the union hall at night, destroyed furniture and supplies, and ran the delegate out of town.

At Klamath Falls, Oregon, there was a reign of terror similar to that of Everett the previous summer. A mob ruled the town. Committees of vigilantes "arrested" all suspected union men at work in the neighboring camps, and jailed ailed them on charges of vagrancy. Forty members of the IWW were held in Jail, in constant danger of lynching by the mob. A lawyer who went from Portland to defend these men, was seized as soon as he reached town and threatened with drowning if he did not leave at once. The leaders of the mob openly declared they would allow no lawyer to defend the IWW prisoners They threatened to hang half of them and drown the other half.

Meantime the strikers in Eastern Washington, Idaho and Montana continued their struggle. In spite of arrests and all other attempts to intimidate them, the men stuck to the picket lines, and the deadlock continued. Day by day the press became more violent, abusive, and mendacious. Mob violence against the strikers was openly advocated, and martial law was insistently demanded Big business brought constant pressure to bear on the city government of Spokane to make them close the headquarters of the LWIU They hoped by that means to cut off the strike funds and starve the strikers back to work. At the street meetings of the strikers held nightly at Spokane, two government stenographers took down every word uttered by the speakers, in the hope that they might let fall some remark that might be interpreted as "seditious." The other tenants of the Lyndall Block, a large office building in which the LWIU headquarters were located, doubtless acting under pressure from big business, notified the landlord that they would all move out if he allowed the LWIU office to remain.

By means of threats and intimidation, attempts were made to prevent any other landlord from renting to the IWW but, after considerable trouble, office room was secured in another building, and the office continued to function without interruption.

In order to force the City of Spokane to close the IWW offices and drive the organization out of town, the business men of Idaho instituted a boycott against the Spokane wholesalers. The lumber workers retaliated by boycotting the retail merchants of Idaho. Many of these servile lackeys of the lumber trust were entirely dependent on the lumber workers' trade for a living, and they learned by bitter and costly experience that it is not always a good policy to bite the hand that feeds them.

The Spokane city administration held many meetings to devise means of dealing with the strike situation. There were conferences with state and national officials. There was much talk of the necessity of using drastic action to end the strike, as a measure of public safety in war time. It is significant that these political office holders, in dealing with the problems presented by the strike, seemed to consider the solution to die in forcing the strikers back on the job, rather than in forcing the lumber barons to concede the demands of the strikers, which were perfectly just and reasonable, as was recognized by Secretary of War Baker. They looked at the situation front the viewpoint of the employers instead of that of the strikers or of disinterested neutrals.

It is difficult to understand how public safety could be promoted by forcing thousands of useful workers back to inhuman conditions, at starvation wages, in order to protect the profits of a few social parasites. Careful consideration of all the circumstances, forces the conclusion that politicians and government officials were more concerned about the profits of the business interests than the safety of the country.

August 19th the Spokane hall and offices of the IWW were closed by the military authorities All office fixtures and supplies were seized, and the officials and all members who happened to be in the hall at the time were arrested and taken to the county jail. Closing the office caused considerable inconvenience but did not discourage the strikers in the least; on the contrary it only increased their tenacity. Cutting off the funds from headquarters only caused redoubled efforts to raise money in other ways, and the strike continued unbroken. Other men took the places of the men arrested, and in a few days new offices were opened.

Next page: Chapter 6 - The Job Strike

[1] Similarly, during the cold war, any hint of resistance to the ideology of the ruling, capitalist class was often immediately denigrated as being the work of Communists funded by the Soviet Union from Moscow, even though -- except in rare cases no such connection existed.